Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Forgotten Winchester Model 1907

Winchester has created dozens of legendary rifles. The significance of these weapons in the settling of the 19th West is a well documented part of history. Winchester’s contribution to history in the 20th century is well documented with the M1917 rifle, M1 Rifle, and six million Model 1894 sporting rifles. Much lesser known and largely ignored is the Winchester 1907 semi automatic carbine. The 1907 is a small, handy gun that was developed from the earlier model Winchester Model 1905. The 1905 was unfortunately, chambered for two very under powered cartridges, the 32 and 35 Winchester Self Loading. These two cartridges proved to be insufficient for deer sized game, even at close ranges. They look more like pistol cartridges with their straight walls and semi rim design.
Winchester wisely decided to increase the power of the 35 Win SL cartridge by lengthening the case and increasing the powder charge. The new cartridge was christened the 351 Winchester Self Loading and the rifle was designated the Model 1907. The rifle is a “Weighted Blowback” action that was necessary for the high pressure 351 Win cartridge. A 180 grain 35 caliber bullet at 1800 fps was impressive ballistics for the little autoloader.
The 1907 was a good rifle for deer sized game in thick woods and brush; it was reasonably popular in these environments. For longer ranges and larger game, the model 1907 was not well suited. It was well suited as a defense rifle. It’s short length, optional 10 and 15 round magazines, and excellent reliability quickly established it as the” gun to have” for protection. The Model 1907 was even used in World War I; early in 1915 the British and French used the Model 1907 to arm aircraft. After machineguns became standard on airplanes, at least some Model 1907s made it to the trenches. Less well known is the Imperial Russian use of the Model 1907 and it big brother the Winchester Model 1910. Both rifles were also used to a small extent in the Second World War. In the U.S. Army, a few Model 1907s were issued to arm aircraft used in the pursuit of Poncho Villa in Mexico during 1916. In the 1920s and the 1930s the law enforcement community embraced the Model 1907, although overshadowed by the Thompson submachine gun; the Winchester had a following of its own on both sides of the law.
Texas gunsmith Hyman S. Lehman modified the Model 1907 into what we would now call a “Close Quarters Battle” (CQB) weapon in the early 1930s. Unfortunately his customers were the Dillinger gang, Pretty Boy Floyd, and Baby Face Nelson among others. The Model 1907 has some proto assault rifle features, namely an intermediate power cartridge, detachable magazine, and semi automatic (sometimes converted to full automatic) operation. In addition the rifle is easily separated into upper and lower receiver groups, like a modern AR-15 rifle.
The Model 1907 was well ahead of its time but the value of its utility and advanced features were appreciated by only a few. During World War I, it was certainly a more sensible path to hand held semi automatic firepower than the ill fated Pedersen Device which was developed for the Model 1903 Springfield rifle. One can only wonder if the wide scale use of the Model 1907 in World War I would have saved some Doughboys’ lives.
It remained in production for law enforcement / civilian use until 1958. By the mid 1960s the 1907 was eclipsed by newer rifle and cartridge designs. As a result of changing tastes and other options, the Model 1907 quickly faded away. Even its proprietary .351 Winchester SL cartridge was hard to find by the 1970s. If one is willing to do the research, there comes a realization that the Model 1907 is a rifle of legends.

2 comments:

  1. Probably the most historically significant weapon that most people in 2012 never heard of, gun guys included. The period of the Great Depression saw a time of high adventure undreamed of today, an age of the highest per capita gunfighters-legendary killers with badges, and desperadoes for whom the action was the juice. Ahead of its time perhaps, those who lived and died by the gun had no doubt discovered the effectiveness of a moderately powered, autoloading carbine. Gabe Suarez says all weapons are specialized weapons. Whether that is the case or not, it is certain that people who were particularly good at, and/or liked shooting people, liked the. 351

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  2. I shot my first deer the first day I was legal to hunt in Wisconsin with this gun in 1964. I now have that gun when my father gave it to me last month and it sits next to the mount(remount) of my 8 pointer that I shot that day. What a great reunion.

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